Call Us +852 3113 1331

The Medical Aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan

Posted on Nov 14, 2013 by Ailee Slater ()  | Tags: Philippines, Typhoon Haiyan, storm disaster relief, WHO, tetanus, sanitation, health care Philippines, Haiti earthquake

A typhoon is little more than rain and wind, and yet the damage that one of these storms can cause is immense. Right now, the Philippines is grappling with the effects of Typhoon Haiyan: damaged infrastructure, millions in need of food aid, and at least thousands killed. Volunteers from the World Health Organization have called Haiyan the most severe disaster they’ve seen in a very long time, and with nearly 10 million people affected, the aftermath of the typhoon won’t dissipate for some time. 

At the moment, one huge medical issue is injuries that remain untreated. Broken bones, deep wounds and even surface cuts and scrapes can become infected, and a severe bacterial infection could lead to tetanus or gangrene. Due to the extent of Typhoon Haiyan’s damage, many residents of the Philippines are without basic medical care, meaning that wounds cannot be cleaned and treated as they normally would be, making infection more likely. 

Tetanus is a bacterial infection, and a major concern for the Philippines according to WHO. Many people in the Philippines have not been vaccinated against tetanus, and are therefore at risk of developing this infection if the bacteria C. tetani has the chance to enter through an open wound. The tetanus infection can result in muscle spasms, breathing problems, fever and an inability to control bowel movements. If not treated with antibiotics, tetanus can be fatal – one quarter of untreated tetanus patients will die. 

The risks of tetanus bring to light another health problem facing the Philippines post-typhoon: lack of antibiotics and other basic medical products. Although antibiotics have been slowly arriving to the most affected areas thanks to international aid, damage to road and sea transportation and communication has slowed down the delivery of drugs and services. Hopefully, as improvements are made in rebuilding infrastructure, the threat of tetanus and other bacterial infections will decrease. 

Already, medical workers in the Philippines are finding themselves stretched thin. Along with aiding victims injured by the typhoon, doctors must also attend to patients experiencing a range of other medical needs. Pregnancy, for example. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said that nearly 100,000 pregnant women are currently living within the typhoon zone, and that it’s likely many of these women will need additional support during delivery due to the interruption of basic medical services during the typhoon and its aftermath. Then, there are also the estimated 190,000 women who have given birth in the past six months, and may require special care for themselves or their children; care that has been interrupted due to Typhoon Haiyan. 

Health care volunteers in the Philippines have also reported a need to provide more services for chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or kidney disease. People with kidney disease depend on dialysis to remove fluid from the kidneys; however, post-storm, many dialysis machines in affected areas have been destroyed, and those that remain may be inaccessible to patients due to road blockages and destruction. Likewise, many diabetics had their medication destroyed in the storm, and have since found it impossible to replenish their supply of blood sugar-regulating medicine – creating a life-threatening condition for many. 

Experts are calling this typhoon one of the most destructive weather disasters on record, but despite all of the medical issues associated with the storm, health news of the Philippines has not been all bad. Some health care workers have said that due to good governmental work over the past few years, they do not expect cholera to be a huge risk for the Philippines; certainly not as serious as the disease was to Haiti in the months after the 2010 earthquake. Polio is another disease that, fortunately, does not appear to be a likely problem in the Philippines, due to its eradication at the beginning of the 21st century. 

Although cholera and polio are not expected to affect the Philippines, health workers are still concerned about other contagious diseases that can spread when large numbers of people are living without clean water or adequate sanitation. Post-disaster, displaced communities without proper sanitation are often at risk of viruses and diarrhea; as with other disasters, such as the earthquake in Haiti or the tsunami in Indonesia, most fatalities of the Philippine storm will likely be due to dehydration. Starvation may also pose a threat to storm survivors in the Philippines, especially if infrastructure improvements are not implemented as soon as possible. 

Indeed, damaged infrastructure is a major reason that Typhoon Haiyan has had such a serious effect upon the Philippines. A nation of small islands and disjoined city-states, the Philippines has seen problems moving people and services from one place to another even in the best of meteorological circumstances. Recent damage to boats, roads and airports has only increased the already tricky process of distributing medical supplies and personnel to those areas most in need of such services. 

As local and foreign aid pours into the Philippines, many health care workers are hopeful that further sickness and injury can be prevented. Restoring sanitation services and fresh water is key, along with bringing food and medicine to every area affected by the storm. Many towns are already back on the communications grid with recently restored cell phone service; meaning that aid workers will have another tool with which to reach those that are most in need. Recovery from Typhoon Haiyan will not be easy, but with the support and hard work of personnel from the Philippines and beyond, the mending of people and communities can ensue as quickly as possible.


Be Sociable, Share!